Cortana on Windows Phone

Don't despair that Windows Phone 8.1's signature virtual assistant, Cortana, doesn't officially work outside of the US -- as it turns out, there's a fairly easy way to try it in other countries. Pocket-lint notes that early adopters can chat with Cortana by choosing US language, region and speech in their phone settings. Provided you can live with American spelling across the interface, everything works as expected -- you can find local shops, call friends and set reminders using only your voice. You'll still have to wait until later in the year to get a truly localized version of Microsoft's digital companion, but you can at least see what all the fuss is about right now.

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If you have any documents (or e-books acquired in a "non-standard" way) stored on your Kindle, now you can access them anywhere via Amazon Cloud Drive. Starting today, documents uploaded to your e-reader via your browser, mobile device or email will automatically be stored in a new "My Send-to-Kindle Docs" folder within Cloud Drive. Unlike previous document uploads that were automatically converted to Kindle format, new additions will be saved in the cloud in their original format. That means you'll be able to edit the Word doc for your book on show ponies (might we suggest a working title of Pageant Ponies: America's Real Beauty Queens?) from your desktop seconds after catching a typo. With the move, Kindle owners can combine their existing 5GB of free cloud storage with the 5GB offered to Cloud Drive users for a total of 10GB of space. You know what that means: plenty of room to store sequels to your equine masterpiece once you hit it big.

Image source: Flickr/Zhao!

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Project Ara is primarily focused on building a modular smartphone in the hopes of changing the industry, but is that the only type of mobile device on the drawing board? Absolutely not. An executive at Toshiba, one of Google's partners on the project, just revealed that his company's vision of the concept goes beyond smartphones. Shardul Kazi, Senior VP and Technology Executive at Toshiba, posited that devices like smartwatches (and beyond, he says) could also take advantage of Ara's blocky component modules, which allow you to mix and match whatever features and components you want to have.

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While we'd seen rumblings that it was in beta testing, Google's Chrome Remote Desktop app for Android made its official debut today. This means that those who fancy Mountain View's mobile OS can take a gander at files that reside on a Windows or Mac machine that's safely docked in the office. The Remote Desktop app has been available on the desktop for quite some time, and now the same access is available through Chrome on Android smartphones and tablets. For those who prefer Apple's devices, an iOS version of the software should be on the way soon.

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While Google has continued to toss new features into the camera app shipped on its Nexus devices, many Android phones replace it something else. But just as we revealed a few weeks ago, now it's available in the Play Store, ready to run on any phone or tablet using Android 4.4 KitKat. Beyond bits like Photo Sphere that we've seen before, Google is filling in the blanks on its new "Lens Blur" option. Meant to emphasize the subject while blurring the background for an impressive depth of field effect, it uses algorithms to simulate the large camera lens and aperture your phone or tablet doesn't actually have. Taking the photo requires an upward sweep to capture multiple images, used to estimate the depth of objects for a 3D map that lets the software re-render the photo later and blur specific items based on where it thinks they are. Google's Research Blog has more details on how it's all done, including the Lytro-like ability to change which object is in focus after you take the shot.

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The HTC One (M8) brought with it a load of new camera features, including its unique Duo Camera setup on its back side. Now, the handset maker is opening up the code that powers the pair in a SDK preview for third-party devs. This means that apps can be designed specifically for the M8's cameras with DualLens and DimensionPlus APIs baked right in. In other words, developers will get their hands on that bokeh-style refocusing and multi-angled shot selection in addition to depth maps from the pair of cameras. Of course, only time will tell how eager app makers are to latch on to HTC's smartphone snapshooting tricks, but at least now they'll have the necessary tools to do so.

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2013 was the year of the smartwatch. In promise, anyway -- maybe not delivery. Of the many, many different, colorful and unusual timepieces that would populate our blogroll, it was perhaps Samsung's Galaxy Gear that made the most headlines. Why? Partly because it was a new product from one of technology's biggest players, and partly because it was just so bad. Poor battery life, an unpopular design and limited apps meant that the $300 accessory never had a chance of catching on. But, resilient as ever, Samsung is having another crack at it. In fact, it's having another three cracks at it with the release of the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit smartwatches. The big question this time around: Is the second-gen Gear any better than its predecessor? Spoiler alert: Yes, it is. But enough that you might actually want one? That question is a little more complex.

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Technology problem? Easy, just hit the Mayday button (if you have one) or sign up for Google Helpouts and within a few minutes, you'll instantly connect to an expert. Compare that with selecting a healthcare plan, or making trips to the clinic, and medicine can seem a little old-fashioned. Better is looking to change that with an iOS app that offers both a concierge to help you navigate your HMO's bureaucracy, but also to offer instant access to the physicians at the Mayo Clinic when you're feeling unwell. The app is launching from today, setting you back $49 a month, and while it's currently not covered by any insurance plans, there are some incentives to help soften the blow.

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Project Tango's infrared projector in action

Want to get a better understanding of Google's 3D-sensing Project Tango smartphone beyond the usual promo videos? iFixit is more than happy to show you now that it has torn down the device for itself. The close-up identifies many of the depth mapping components in the experimental handset, including the infrared and fisheye cameras (both made by OmniVision), motion tracking (from InvenSense) and dual vision processors (from Movidius).

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It's just seven days until OnePlus launches its first Android flagship, but that hasn't stopped the company drip-feeding news about the device. Surprisingly, the outfit promises that the unit will cost under £290 in the UK, €350 in Europe and $3,000 HKD in Hong Kong -- which we're taking to mean £289, €349 and $2,999, respectively. By way of comparison, that's £10 less than you'd pay for a Nexus 5 and £20 more than you'd need for a Lumia 1320. Now, given that the handset is shipping with a Snapdragon 801, 3GB RAM, 5.5-inch 1080p display and a 3,100mAh battery, what is OnePlus likely to scrimp on in order to get it down to that price? Why not dive in over at the forums and speculate with us.

Update: No sooner had we begun to shoot the breeze concerning the rest-of-the-world pricing when the company announces that the OnePlus One will also land in the US, where it'll retail for "under" $400.

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Apple and Samsung are duking it out in court yet again, but there's at least one thing they (and a host of their smartphone making rivals) agree on: users shouldn't be helpless when their phones are stolen. That's why, starting in July 2015, all of the smartphones those companies sell in the United States will come with an anti-theft tool meant to help keep your data out of the wrong hands. The full list of backers includes the usual heavyweights: besides Apple and Samsung, there's Google, HTC, Huawei, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, along with the country's biggest wireless carriers. Those parties in total represent a tremendous chunk of the American wireless industry, so your next (or next next) smartphone will almost certainly let you stick it to the sticky-fingered.

And what, pray tell, would such tools do? According to the CTIA, users will be able to remotely wipe and restore their devices (say, from a cloud backup), and prevent them from being reactivated or used by unsavory types. That seemingly simple move wouldn't just save us all anguish, it could save us a collective total of $2.5 billion a year in replacement costs and insurance fees. It sure sounds like a win for consumers, but some -- like Senator Mark Leno, who sponsored a bill to create a kill-switch for connected gadgets in the Golden State -- think such tools should be on by default rather than requiring users to opt-in. He's probably on to something, but at least all these companies have a few months to iron out the details.

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The night before Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division was supposed to show off the one and only functional Project Ara prototype to a room full of eager developers, someone dropped the phone and broke the display. At any other product reveal, this worst-case scenario would be a nightmare come true. Not to Google: The company made lemonade out of a lemon by turning it into a selling point for the modular smartphone. A year from now, painful situations like this might be easily fixed by simply buying a new display and swapping out the broken one.

Not that it would've made much of a difference if last night's fiasco never happened. Attendees at this week's Project Ara developer conference wouldn't have been able to boot up the prototype and play around with it like any typical smartphone -- in this case, "functional" is not the same as "functioning" -- but at least it would've made for a better presentation. Regardless of how it looked, however, we were able to briefly handle the Project Ara prototype and some of its first modules. To be clear, this is an extremely early model and there's a long way to go before it sees the light of day, but it at least allows us to get a good glimpse of what's to come over the next year as Ara continues to prepare for launch.

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Helpouts on iPhone

Need to brush up on your cooking skills, but only have your iPhone close at hand? Don't panic: Google has quietly brought its Helpouts service to iOS. Much like the existing Android software, the iPhone-sized app (sorry, no iPad version) lets you schedule video chats with experts on topics ranging from baking to bike repair. Just be prepared to limit yourself to free advice -- Google isn't offering paid Helpouts in the iOS app. You'll also need to go to the web if you want to create listings for your own instructional sessions. If neither of those limitations is a deal-breaker, though, you can start taking lessons today.

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Roku 3 update lets you search for movies and more with a smartphone

Roku baked its comprehensive search feature into its mobile apps last month, but only folks who used it with the firm's HDMI Streaming Stick have been able to enjoy life without wielding a remote to hunt and peck for letters. Starting today, however, more of the outfit's hardware is getting some love: an update is trickling out to Roku 3 devices that'll enable the search feature with the apps. Since the company expects the software rollout to wrap up by April 22nd, it may be a while before your own box gets updated. Other Roku models are expected to snag the upgrade in the following weeks. Until then, you can use the clicker to hunt for content by actors, directors and show titles. Like an animal.

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Fake fingerprint used to fool the Galaxy S5

It looks like the iPhone 5s isn't the only smartphone whose fingerprint reader can be fooled by fake digits. SR Labs has just posted a video (shown below) showing that Samsung's just-launched Galaxy S5 is susceptible to the same trick: as long as you have a good photo of a latent print (such as one from the touchscreen), you can create a mold that passes for a real finger. The lab also claims that Samsung's approach may ultimately be less secure than Apple's, since you're not forced to enter a passcode under certain conditions (such as a reboot) and can use the fingerprint to make PayPal transactions.

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